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Session Overview
Session
3-SP002 - 1/2: Emotionally Engaged: Reflecting Upon Researchers’ Positionality - 1/2
Time:
Tuesday, 06/July/2021:
2:00pm - 3:15pm

Session Chair: Prof. An Ansoms, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Session Abstract

Research interacts with and has an impact upon the field in which it is grounded. The literature engages with discussing ethical and epistemological dimensions of research. It also increasingly invites researchers to reflect upon their own positionality. However, social scientists are badly trained when it comes to talk about the emotionality that their research generates. When doing research on topics such as solidarity, peace and social justice (or the lack thereof), these emotional challenges may be all the more profound. We invite papers that reflect upon researchers’ positionality in relation to their research life, and the emotionality embedded within their trajectory. Contributions in the form of draft papers will reflect upon the ways in which researchers’ own emotionality interacts with their engagement as a scientist and – potentially – as an activist.


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Presentations

Between the Memories and the Present

Zaruhi Haberer-Shushanyan

International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam

Describing articulation of Holocaust memories among the second and third generations of survivors, Kidron (2009) calls public articulation of knowing the Holocaust-related emotional wound as the key to healing. As a granddaughter of an Armenian Genocide survivor and as an individual with her family history and personal memories, I wrote my research paper for a Master's Degree in Development Studies by fully admitting three facts: I am an Armenian, the memories of my grandfather who escaped from Anatolia when he was five years old are part of my family history and myself. Finally, like my parents, I am transmitting these memories on a daily basis.

With that research paper, I associated my family memories of the genocide with the so-called "presence" of the past - the presence of life, death, survival, suffering, relief, trauma and healing. If articulation of painful memory is the "prescribed medicine" for healing, then I rather choose the healing articulation, rather than the deliberate alienation of these memories. In the latter case, I would feel as a patient suffering from temporary amnesia. When I re-gained my memory, I would have to embrace the "past" again to be able to reconstruct my "history" from the remaining pieces.

In writing my paper, I never pretended that I could be two different personalities at the same time - a researcher and a granddaughter of a genocide survivor. My intention was to describe the spatial and bodily transmission of the Armenian Genocide memories on the macro- level, while acknowledging my own transmission of them on a micro-level. If I have to accept Kidron's hypothesis that the survivors of genocide "silence" their memories due to trauma and that their children start articulating those memories about "the truth" to re-gain the destroyed identity of their families, then I could find similarities between the articulation and collectivization of the Armenian Genocide memories by the second and third generations of survivors as a form to get hold of their past which later becomes a "starting point" in a history of a state - a state that, like a patient recovering from amnesia, has to recollect the broken pieces of the past.

My grandfather's recollections of childhood and his escape from the Anatolian province of Bitlis to Soviet Armenia years after WWI are the "starting point" in the history of my family. My grandfather began articulating them only a few years before his death. The silence was finally broken and I am not sure how and how long the next generations of my family will be able to transmit those memories.



Experience: an Account of Woman-Researcher’s Narratives from Madhya Pradesh

Dr Ranu Tomar

Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India

This paper focuses on my detailed account of my lived-experiences as a woman research-scholar during my doctoral research’s field work in Madhya Pradesh which is a centrally located state in India. This paper tries to address woman-researcher’s position as an insider and outsider during my field-work of research in four cities of Madhya Pradesh: Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur and Gwalior. Applying a feminist lens to understand Hindi print journalism in Madhya Pradesh provides flexibility with methods for the purpose of the researcher while being in the four cities for conducting in-depth interviews with the women journalists. Following the qualitative research methodology paradigm, as a researcher I have been enabled to locate myself in a dialogic process of knowledge production during my field work.

Qualitative research offers possibilities of capturing narratives that reveal the subjective experiences of the researcher. I, a woman researcher found it more interactive research methodology bringing out my own lived- experiences as Jayaratne and Stewart (1991) write that sociologists use qualitative methods based on an understanding that women’s experience and narratives have not been articulated well under quantitative methods.

This paper also documents my own field-notes of several incidents of ‘mansplaining’ as an encounter with my identity as a woman researcher. I found men were literally explaining my own doctoral research to me in an almost textbook case of ‘mansplainning’. This paper has been an effort to understand feminist research methods suitably documenting my lived experiences of entangled social-cultural realities in particular geographical contexts. This paper is an academic effort to redefine geographical understanding from a woman-research scholar’s point of view and her positionality.



Balancing Self-Reflections and Navigating Positionality: Studying Social Learning(s) and Knowledge Appropriation in a Caste-Based Society

Birendra Singh

International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) the Hague, Netherlands, The

I went to Bundelkhand in the central part of India to research how social learning and knowledge appropriation takes place in and around of individual driven decentralized irrigation system which is largely based on traditional rainwater harvesting practices. However, during the course of this research I have gone through many incidents, stories and experiences those have challenged my positionality, knowledge and thinking as a researcher. This paper is about these incidents, stories and experiences and how, as a researcher, I tried to “emotionally engage and respond” to them in last six months. Bundelkhand region of India is going through a massive agrarian crisis. The erratic and limited availability of water catastrophically leads an agrarian crisis in the Bundelkhand region where farmers suicide, debt-trap and booming migration became an unfortunate reality of the region. I have sensed the intensity of this crisis while boarding in the train from New Delhi to Mahoba district of Bundelkhand. Thousands of farmers those were forced to became urban labourer were fighting on the railway station, literally beating each other, to find a space in the train. Next day, in Mahoba, I met two people those were my potential local resource persons too; local journalist and a social activist. They narrate the stories around water those were “emotionally shocking” including how so-called upper caste men are forcing so-called lower caste women to offer sex to them in the exchange of water, numerous tragic stories of farmer suicides and caste-based conflicts around water. They showed me several local newspapers cuttings those were confirming their tragic narrations. Untouchability, patriarchy, feudal social institutions and caste-based distribution of capital worsen the situation. NGOization of problems is the new business in the region which I wanted to criticize loudly, as I felt, but at the same time, I was also depending on them. I was depending on them to situate myself, at least in terms of physical resources, accessing ‘data’ and interior parts of the region, in the fieldwork location. My dependency as a researcher stopped me to follow my feelings during the fieldwork.

This study uses “economic anthropology” as an approach and specific version of ethnography popularly known as “deep hanging out” as a methodological tool. As an alternative to conventional ethnography techniques, I used “self-immersion” in the field as a methodology to capture how social learning and knowledge appropriation takes place in a socio-cultural context. Visiting and having conversations with more than hundreds of farmers in approximately thirty villages, participating in daily chores of farmers specifically irrigation and water-related, working with them in field, teaching their children, attending meeting and training sessions facilitated by local NGOs for farmers and travelling with them to different locations are used as an opportunity to underline “localized way of doing” to conceptualize local knowledge, creativity and heuristics situated in local socio-economic context. Continuous living in the field location tinkered me to think back of my original social identity, especially the situation of untouchables in villages and the inhumane language people used for the untouchables. But I intentionally tried to suppress this “tinkered experience” because I was not sure how my resource persons would receive it because caste is the most important factor in rural India. Later it became my biggest dilemma that what is most important for me; my feelings and social identity or my work as a researcher. Being a researcher I was benefiting from these experiences because I was witnessing “interesting” stories and experiences but being a living being I was feeling strange anguish inside me.



A Divorcee with Green Hair and Tattooed Sleeve Talking about Sexuality

Azmarina Tanzir

KU Leuven, Belgium

Why do I study what I study and why is it so important to me? Can it be self-discovery, or just curiosity? Can anyone study gender-related issues without being reflexive? Is it possible at all to remove ourselves from the subject of our study or investigation and be objective at all? For me, the answer is NO!

Having encountered sexual violence and mental abuse in the hetero-patriarchal social structures of family and having experienced state's practice of political autonomy over women's body, I became an ardent student of gender and sexuality related issues. Sexuality is a public as well as a personal affair which can very well be the cause of ideological debate as much as a source of pleasure. In Bangladesh, gender-specific notions of sexuality and sexual pleasure are implanted in men and women from their childhood. There is neither any conversation in the formal education system on the topics of young people’s sexual well-being, of their perspectives of desire and pleasure; nor any emphasis on understanding how the culture of control affects their psychosocial growth as an individual. The fact that both formal and informal channels of reproductive and sexual health information are overtly dominated by a negative narrative of danger and health hazards, leads young women to think of sexual pleasure seeking as a tabooed behavior.

Acknowledging that research is produced by situated and embodied researchers, there is an imperative need to consider the position and context from which the researcher speaks. Her looks and social position matter in the production of ethnographic account. Positionality refers to both how the society perceives who the researcher is and how the researcher sees the community she is working with. My positionality is shaped by a combination of aspects and identities. These include: female, feminist, divorced, childless, sexual violence survivor, conservative muslim upbringing, with relatively high levels of education, green colored hair, tattooed sleeve. The ordering of the identifiers does not correspond to a perceived higher value.

My research field is Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh – a muslim majority and predominantly patriarchal society. Being a Bangladeshi who lived among urban population of Dhaka her entire life, I understand the nuanced cultural practices of the society and its complex mold of fabrics. As a researcher my positionality is an outsider-within. My ‘ethnic’ identity and ‘citizenship’ makes me an insider but my marital status, green hair, tattooed sleeve and foreign exposure scores me high points as outsider talking about tabooed issues. Knowing the native language gave me a comparative advantage while talking about sensitive issues regarding sexuality and pleasure specially moments when people prefer talking in slangs and dialects about these issues. Nevertheless, knowing that Bangla language does not even have words for ‘orgasm’ or ‘female masturbation’ makes it interesting to explore how embodied experiences of pleasure is expressed through linguistic expressions by the participants.

Instead of removing myself entirely from the participants, a reflexive approach certainly enhances the quality of data collection and analysis given the sensitive topic of my research. In my research, I found that by sharing my experience of being sexual violence survivor, by meeting them in different everyday life settings, sharing joy and frustration, witnessing and participating in their suffering; that is, becoming close to them helped me navigate and situate my positionality through the insider-outsider spectrum to create close relationships with the respondents. In addition, treating them as active co-producers of knowledge and not only as data sources created a space for writing/speaking with them rather than writing/speaking about them.



The (dis)contents of the Third World Country researcher: or Rigorous Reflexivity as a necessary exercise.

Jessica Nogueira Varela

University of Lodz/ Central European University

Decolonial, Postcolonial, Feminist and Queer critiques of Western knowledge production have played a fundamental role in demystifying the idea of neutrality and objectivity in the making of academic research. Feminist theory, in particular, has been concerned with the importance of reflexivity as a means to do ethical research (Stacey, 1988; Rooke, 2009). In this paper, based on my thesis’ fieldwork, I address affects and questions that continue to arise due to my positionality in the attempt to do ethical and vulnerable research as a Black woman from the Global South (Behar, 1996). This paper is born out of the reflections based upon Behar's (1996) challenge, in "The Vulnerable Observer", to make visible "what aspects of the self are the most important filters through which one perceives the world and, more particularly, the topic being studied." (p.13) In trying to understand how different the experiences of non-European Black women and European Black women living in Berlin are, I have had the chance to observe the diversity within the Black community in Berlin and its manifold struggles for empowerment and social justice. In this sense, nationality, gender, race, and class privilege of one’s location, language, and citizenship play a central role in power im/balance throughout my experience doing fieldwork in Europe and, more specifically, in Germany. Through Patricia Hill Collin’s (2001) concept of Standpoint Theory and the contributions from scholars who elaborate on Black Feminist Anthropology (McClaurin et. al, 2001) and Rigorous Reflexivity (Hale, 1991; Subedi, 2010), I critically engage with a set of my own (dis)contents in simultaneously being read and performing both as an Outsider and an Insider in the field. As I am read under different symbols, I understand that ethically theorizing about my fieldwork experience means breaking down and situating what elements have informed the way I navigate through the field, as well as the ways in which my interviewees have read me and how that may have changed the way they have responded. Finally, I argue that Rigorous Reflexivity is a crucial exercise in the attempt of theorizing about one’s positionality and emotional accountability in doing fieldwork; especially given the lack of literature on the risks of doing ethical and caring research in the First World as a Third World researcher.



Subject To Investigation: Reviewing a Decade of Field Research in ‘Difficult Environments’

Lotje de Vries

Wageningen University, Netherlands

Subject to investigation was the title of the methodology chapter in my PhD thesis on everyday practice of state-building in South Sudan at its borders with Uganda and DR Congo. The title had a double meaning and I argued how, because of the fact that South Sudanese state-agents constantly monitored my movements, I adjusted my research strategy and topic. Looking back, I realized that the emotions that derived from their constant scrutiny, affected my research path more than I initially realized. In this paper I will reflect on how emotions in research and teaching impacted on what I have been doing since. By revisiting pivotal moments in my research life, I will discuss how these shifted my positionality. These pivotal moments root in developments in the field, methods and knowledge production. The first —field development— moments came when the war started again in South Sudan. It forced me to rethink the extent to which I had seen that coming, and on a more personal level, what it did to my relations with the state-agents I interacted with and considered my friends. How did they see each other in light of the new war? How did I see them? The second —methods and approach— moment came when I started research on a new country (the Central African Republic), in which I had a different role in the project, much less time, and no previous connections, knowledge and emotions to navigate on. The third —knowledge production— moment, with potential impact on future research, is when I started teaching a course on fieldwork in difficult environments, while also thinking more about the implications of the need to decolonize academic research and education on development. Ultimately, my paper will answer the question of what makes for a so-called ‘difficult environment’ as a white Western woman. I reflect on the implications of these pivotal moments on ideas for future research in terms of geography, method, and positionality.



 
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